Off topic: How is interpreting from an SOV to SVO language possible?
Thread poster: Tim Drayton

Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:16
Turkish to English
+ ...
Oct 31, 2006

I have often wondered how it is possible to interpret simultaneously from an SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) language into an SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) language, or indeed between any two languages whose syntax is very different. The SOV into SVO situation interests me in particular, partly because I translate written texts in such a pair (Turkish into English) and this sensitises me to the issue, and also because there is an obvious problem: after the speaker has uttered the subject of the sentence in an SOV language the interpreter working into an SVO language such as English, having given the translation of the subject next needs the verb but will have to wait until the end of the sentence to find out what it is and in the meantime remember the rest of the sentence (the object) whose translation can only be given once the verb comes along.
Let me give an example. Take the Turkish sentence:
Şirket (‘the company’) fabrıkayı (‘the factory’ + glide’y’+accusative’ı’) kapattı (‘close’+third person past tense’tı’)
The translation is ‘the company closed the factory’. Here a simultaneous interpreter would have to retain the ‘the factory’ in his/her mind and first translate the verb ‘closed’ before adding the object. This is clearly well within anybody’s capacity, but in Turkish it is virtually an iron rule that the main verb comes at the end of the sentence however long. Let’s add, for example, ‘geçen hafta’ (last week to the sentence):
Şirket geçen hafta fabrikayı kapattı. ‘The company closed the factory last week.’
Now the interpreter has to retain ‘last week the factory’ before hearing the main verb and then slightly alter the word order in the predicate to boot. This is still well within the realms of possibility, but what if instead of ‘last week’ we had ‘last week following an intensive campaign led by local union officials that involved a sit-down protest in the main square’. I don't understand how anyone can retain all of this in their mind until the main verb comes along, and even if they do surely in a sense what is happening is no longer ‘simultaneous’.
Another feature of Turkish that I believe it shares with many SOV languages is for the equivalent of relative clauses to precede the nouns they qualify, rather than follow them as in English. Let us add a relative clause to my example sentence:
Beyaz (‘white’) eşyayı (‘goods’+glide’y’+accusative’ı’) üreten (‘produce’+active participle ending ‘en’) şirket fabrikayı kapattı. ‘The company which produces white goods closed the factory’.
Here again, the interpreter has to retain the relative clause in his/her mind until the following noun is uttered, after which the interpreter can provide the translation first of the noun and then the relative clause. This example involves three words and is of course perfectly feasible, but what if the relative clause is long and complicated or there is a string of several relative clauses qualifying the noun?
I am asking this question out of curiosity rather then any real need to know, so have posted it ‘off topic’. I realise that spoken language tends to use shorter and less complex sentences, but even so simultaneous interpreting between languages with very different word orders appears virtually impossible to me, yet I know it happens and I wonder how it is done.


Jonathan Sanders (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:16
Anticipation and humor ;-) Oct 31, 2006

I'm not an expert on this but, I've wondered some of the same things about collegues who work from German. What I've been told is that a key element is anticipating what is going to be said. Not so much making a subject up, but if you hear someone say "Jonathan Sanders" "I", you assume they are introducing themselves and say "I am Jonathan Sanders", for example. Of course you can be wrong, but then you correct that in a next sentence. For example when a "nicht" comes at the end of the sentence that they don't expect, apparently they say something like "Or rather, it would be if that were true." or "Or is it? Acutually no", or (as somone jokingly said) "Like hell it is!" If anyone who actually works from German or any similar language has insight in the matter that contradicts what I said, please chime right in.


RB Translations  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:16
English to Italian
+ ...
You have to wait indeed Oct 31, 2006

Yes you have to try and anticipate what the speaker will say, but keeping on the safe side, because you do not want to put yourself in a corner with no way out after you actually hear them utter the words.
Yes you have to wait as much as possibile (this is called decalage): the idea is to stay behind a few sentences if you can, rather than just a few words. Of course this is very very difficult if the speaker is talking very slow. Some interpreters like to take notes (using consecutive symbols and such) if the sentences are really LONG and there is no hint of the verb as yet!
It can become a nightmare if the speaker puts in a lot of extra information BEFORE the verb. If possibile the interpreter will try to break down the different "blocks of information" and make several shorter sentences: sometimes the result isn't very elegant, but you might not have a choice.
It goes without saying that it is not easy.


Tsogt Gombosuren  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:16
Member (2004)
English to Mongolian
+ ...
Nobody can do simultaneous interpreting between SOV and SVO languages Nov 2, 2006

Tim Drayton wrote:

Let me give an example. Take the Turkish sentence:
Şirket (‘the company’) fabrıkayı (‘the factory’ + glide’y’+accusative’ı’) kapattı (‘close’+third person past tense’tı’)
The translation is ‘the company closed the factory’.

Mongolian language is very much similar to Turkic languages, because it belongs to Altaic family.

"Компани vйлдвэрийг хаав."
Компани (company) vйлдвэрийг (factory + accusative "ийг") хаав (close + past tense "в")

I agree with you that it is impossible to interpret between SOV and SVO languages simultaneously. When I am asked by clients to provide simultaneous interpreting service, I often tell them that there is no such thing as simultaneous interpreting between English and Mongolian and I can do only consecutive interpreting if they want me be accurate.


Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:16
Turkish to English
+ ...
Thanks for the replies Nov 3, 2006

I would agree with Tsogt that it appears to be impossible, yet I know that simultaneous interpreting happens between Turkish and English, and most certainly for example between Japanese (whose syntax I believe closely resembles that of Turkish) and English. As Roberta and Jonathan have suggested there are techniques that make it possible. If the interpreter is translating the previous sentence and listening to the next sentence at the same time then it becomes possible. I am glad that I am not a conference interpreter!


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